I am finally here in Iganga, Uganda, where my homestay family resides and where the UDHA office is. UDHA stands for Uganda Development and Health Associates, a local NGO that does a lot of important work in HIV/AIDS prevention and outreach, maternal health, and more. I will be an intern with UDHA for the next 5-6 weeks– my role, although not wholly clear to me yet, will be in STI management, HIV counseling and testing, and family planning.
It is surreal to finally be here. From engaging in local poverty work at the Suitcase Clinic serving the homeless, to learning about the Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) minor at Berkeley, to taking Ananya Roy’s GPP 115, to reading about and being aspired by the work of Paul Farmer, and to all the preparations that came with GPP 105 in exploring the different implications of global poverty work, and in researching the history of HIV/AIDS work and models in Uganda, and more, I still can’t quite believe it. Despite all that has tried to get in the way of me completing my practice experience abroad, I am finally, finally, here.
…But back to my journey getting here.
After saying goodbye to my friends and family, I flew from SFO to FRA (Frankfurt, Germany), where I had an 8 hour layover, not so pleasant mostly because I was airsick and feeling nauseous. Still, I stuck it out and managed to find the city center, where I walked around and ate a proper dinner. Next, I found myself in ADD (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), where I had another long layover. During this layover, I managed to “borrow” the wifi of a private lounge. So I sat on the floor on my computer, updating some of my friends and family. Finally, it came the time for my flight to EBB (Entebbe, Uganda). A mere 2 hours later, as I stuck my face to the window, I could not believe that I had arrived to the beautiful country of Uganda, which would be my home for the next 5-6 weeks. I remember immediately leaving the plane, being greeted by a cool breeze, and feeling that I was so happy to be here. It all felt right.
After claiming my baggage, I walked outside to a large crowd of Ugandans– drivers, family members, etc., awaiting the arrival of their respective peoples. After finding my UDHA driver, I met Klare, the girl I would be staying with. We had been in contact over e-mail for a couple months now, and I found her very welcoming and friendly. Now, after the 32+ hour journey here, I was ready to be home and rest, but I knew that was not going to be the case. The ride to Iganga was 5 hours, during which I viewed from behind the windows the cities of Kampala, Jinja, and more. Midway, we stopped for some snacks from the street vendors, who crowd around the cars with their food and drinks in hand and in your face. I had experienced something like this in Ghana, but still, it was quite a view.
Finally, we reached the village in Iganga where both UDHA’s office and Klare’s home were. It was dinner time so Klare’s mother had prepared us a large meal. Both her parents I found very kind and welcoming. Their English accents were sometimes hard to decipher, but we got by. Their house was beautifully adorned, and it was very comfortable and accommodating. The latrine and bucket showers will be something to get used to, but already I am liking my stay here.
This morning, Klare and I woke up at 8 am to get ready for the workday. We made our way over the UDHA office (a 5-10 minute walk), where I got the chance to meet many of the staff and the other volunteers/interns. On the way over, and to no surprise, I caught the eyes (although in no way demeaning or mal-intended) of the locals, mostly children, as they called out “Mzungu” and waved. There was a similar word in Ghana, Oburoni, which means “white person” but more recently has come to mean “foreigner.”
It has been only a couple hours since I have been in the office. I am currently waiting for the return of Michael, who is the program coordinator, and who I have been in correspondence with since contacting UDHA. Michael, another male from Sweden who is also staying at Klare’s home, and other staff members are currently on an island working on their maternal health project. But these first hours have already been exciting, witnessing the staff and volunteers respond to “helpbox” questions from local 7th graders regarding the changes they are going through and questions regarding sexuality. Some examples of the questions these students have been asking are:
-“Can I produce if I have thrown a used pad in a latrine?”
-“I have big breasts like a woman and my classmates tell me that I have played sex. Is it true?“
And one more, which was 1. too long to type up, but 2. quite entertaining to read. See for yourself:
It seems that there are many misconceptions, as well as myths, surrounding the issues of sex, contraception, etc. In my first 2 hours I have already taken a glimpse into some of these issues, one example being the myth of throwing a used pad into a latrine. Still, I have so much to learn about Uganda– the land, the culture, the people, etc., and only look forward to what is to come.
I expect to be in the office some days, and in the field doing mobile outreaches and testings other days, but will be with internet. I am already missing so much of home and my friends and family, but know that the next few weeks here will be irreplaceable and something I will never quite be able to forget. Who knows, maybe in 6 weeks from now I will be missing the people here.
(Note: Sorry for the quality of the photos, they were all taken on my phone. I am still hesitant to whip out my dSLR for fear of what it may imply to the locals.)